This Christmas season I did my best to soak in every Christmas experience possible. The only thing lacking in Europe was snow and of course my family. Lucky for me, I had both when I came home to Canada this past week!
The first Christmasy adventure this season was with three of my girlfriends to some villages in Northern Italy near Switzerland. We visited Stresa and Verbania. We had read that the Christmas markets were starting this particular weekend so we took an early morning train to these beautiful villages on Lago Maggiore. Sadly, when we arrived we found out the markets were not beginning until the following weekend. We did however find ourselves some mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and enjoyed a wonderful meal as we walked around villages outlined by snow covered Alps. Despite the lack of markets, it was a great kickoff to the Christmas season!
The following weekend I flew to Warsaw, Poland and visited a friend from home who is living there. I had my fingers crossed for some snow but instead was greeted with a whole lot of rain and cold temps. Nonetheless, Warsaw is a beautiful city with a lot of dark and interesting history. The Old Town was destroyed during World War II but has been restored and is a beautiful area to tour. After a quick trip to the markets, some mulled wine, mulled beer and delicious perogies it was pretty much time to hop back on a plane to Milan and prepare for the next Christmas adventure.
My next Christmas adventure took place with four wonderful colleagues in Belgium. We took a late night Friday flight to Brussels and stayed at a lovely hotel that had incredible Christmas markets at its doorstep (Thanks Katy, Erika and Meredith for sharing your hotel!!). Saturday morning we had breakfast at a delicious pastry shop and then took a train to Bruges. If you have never been or seen a picture, just imagine a fairytale village with houses and shops that look like they are made of gingerbread. It was truly a magical village with so much Christmas cheer on each and every corner. We spent most of our time here walking and soaking in the beauty. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of mussels and beer (a Belgium favourite). We also spent perhaps too much time shopping in chocolate shops (another Belgium favourite). Belgium has as many chocolate shops as Ireland has pubs. It was pretty wonderful!! After a long and Christmasfied day in Bruges, we returned by train to Brussels. The next day before heading back to the airport we once again enjoyed the incredible Christmas markets, took a walk around the exterior of the Grand Palace (breathtaking) and enjoyed some more chocolate!
Another festive night out was with the parents of my students. My school has a tradition that the parents of your class take you out for a Christmas meal or cocktail night. My teaching partner and I were treated to a nice evening out with all of the parents where we enjoyed some wonderful food and drinks, got to know the parents a little bit better and were presented with a lovely Christmas gift. The next big event was a Christmas staff social at Dolce and Gabbana's Gold bar (with flat screen tvs in each bathroom stall, it is as fancy as it sounds). My European Christmas season came to an end with one final Christmas party hosted by myself and my roommate. The next morning I boarded a plane and 12 hours later I was back in Canada ready to start my Canadian Christmas!
Happy New Year to you all and best wishes for a safe, happy, healthy and hopefully adventurous year ahead!